Is Mockingjay anyone’s favorite Suzanne Collins’ book? Umm, not really. But in so many ways, it is the most profound in the Hunger Games trilogy. Mockingjay allows room to reflect on a world built on chaos, power, and destruction – a world revealed to be shockingly similar to our own.
As always, Suzanne Collins’ language in Mockingjay is beautiful. The world she created feels lived in and fully realized. Bad things happen to good people in truthful ways. She doesn’t spare the reader; nothing is glossed over as we become witnesses to the horrors of war.
President Coin as a villain is so different from President Snow’s cartoonish, grotesque villainy, and yet in her own way, we recognize that Coin’s willingness to make human beings expendable for the preservation of the greater good is just as bad. What makes Coin even more interesting is that despite Katniss’ reluctance to trust her, there is still a level of respect that Suzanne Collins affords her in Katniss’ eyes, as well as the rest of District 13. Their discipline is a display of their commitment to survive. Just like Katniss, Coin is a survivor, even if it means meeting her ends at the expense of others. Because as long as Coin can justify the ends, she has no issues exploiting the means of obtaining them.
Mockingjay doesn’t work hard to be an easy read. It consistently leaves us feeling like there are no right answers, and there are no right choices.
Katniss is a reluctant heroine. In Mockingjay, she’s become a mentally disoriented child living with trauma who is once again exploited as a puppet for the benefit of others. Her strength is that she recognizes the manipulation, and refuses the puppetry. She takes control of her life via selfishness.
Katniss knows that she and the other tribute survivors are pawns in these war games, and her growing dissent with her best friend lies in that after experiencing the Hunger Games, she fundamentally disagrees in the excuse of sacrificing the few for the sake of the many. By committing himself so wholeheartedly to the rebellion, by believing that one side is entirely in the right and the other must be entirely destroyed, Gale has sort of begun to buy into the hype and philosophy of the Hunger Games. Katniss knows that in these terrible games they play, no one really deserves to win.
And despite the emphasis that fans put on the series love triangle, Mockingjay is at it’s heart a story about compassion, not romance. Katniss never makes choices based on passion – after all she’s endured, she isn’t capable of doing so. She makes choices based on survival, and genuine, pure love.
In the end, in a seemingly unromantic twist, Katniss chooses Peeta because hope is what she needs to survive. For so much of the book, we, like Katniss, are left missing Peeta and all that he stands for. Like Prim, Peeta forces Katniss to see the good in the world. In these two, Katniss sees the best of humanity: they are comforting, thoughtful, kind, peaceful people. Katniss recognizes that she, Haymitch, and Gale are cut from the same cloth – they are survivors. But people like Peeta and Prim don’t just survive – they focus on living.
A story built on the atrocities of the murder of children can’t end in a happily ever after. After everything that’s occurred, to have things end in a wrapped up joyful conclusion would be unrealistic and insulting. They have suffered, and their trauma can’t be done away with with a drawn out, glorious and triumphant battle.
War is war; it is terrible, and Suzanne Collins took on the responsibility to present it as truly terrible. Yes, Finnick and Prim’s deaths seem sudden and unfair. War is unfair. As Hypable superstar writer Danielle told me, “Finnick’s death only earned a few short sentences – But that’s how so many of us die. That’s life, no matter if you’re a main character, supporting character, or background character.” Glamorous death scenes are not realistic, and in fact, the nature of the Hunger Games series is against the glamorization of death and war as the heroic resolution.
Much ado has been made about Katniss missing the end of war and the chance to rebuild the Capitol. While history is happening outside, we instead live months and chapters inside Katniss’ deteriorating mind, waiting for her to eat or take a shower. But to assume that Katniss missed the most important part of the story is to misunderstand the fundamental point of the series. The end of the war does not matter. The battles do not matter. In the end, even our view on “victory” doesn’t matter. The point of Mockingjay is exploring the ripple effects of war: the cyclic continuation of humanity’s horrors and inability to learn from its mistakes.
Mockingjay isn’t afraid to let us feel frustration with Katniss. At the end of the series, Katniss isn’t presented as a hero. We are disappointed in her for choosing to allow the Hunger Games to continue. We are disappointed in how she kills Coin out of revenge. We are disappointed that after all she has endured, in the end, she essentially gives up.
And yet, we are left understanding her choices, and for maybe the first time, we see her as just another child that the world has destroyed. From all sides, rebel and Capitol, she was presented as a symbol of war, of freedom, of rebellion, but in the end she is, as she has always been, a desperate child. Left in a state of hopelessness and mental instability, she isn’t even allowed redemption through death. Katniss has to live with the destruction she’s caused. She was never a hero. By the time the war’s over, she’s only barely a survivor.
And despite it all, in the end, this is a story about hope: Katniss and Peeta end their horror by beginning to rebuild their lives. They create their own peace, and while we are left feeling that some things are worth fighting for, we are still hauntingly reminded that war is never an end, and even less so, a promising beginning.